After the raging disappointment of England’s feeble World Cup challenge, perhaps its time to take a look at ‘football’ American-style.
American Football – as it is inventively known – bears little resemblance to the ‘beautiful game’ with the ball intentionally being struck by the foot less often than a game of cricket or even the Gaelic sport of hurling.
Yet its roots undeniably lie in rugby union which was, in turn, a breakaway format of association football as codified by the Football Association in 1863.
There are clear differences between the two ball-in-hand games with the most glaring being the ability to pass forwards stateside rather than exclusively backwards everywhere else, yet the goal of breaking the gain line in rugby correlates well with the objective of progressing ten yards downfield in four downs in gridiron.
A favourite point of discussion between enthusiasts of the two sports focuses on physicality with the ferocity of tackling and the required toughness of the combatants provoking most debate.
Physicality is such an important part of each game that if you are a spectator of either and you like to bet on sports, the odds are that you have placed a few quid on either the number of sacks or the number of missed tackles in gridiron and rugby, respectively.
American football followers will point to the fact that you can tackle with any part of your body including your head – though not your legs – and you need not make any attempt to actually hold your opponent.
Those on the rugby side of the divide will claim that their heroes do not wear pads – well, not to the extreme of those in the NFL – and they certainly don’t wear helmets unless you count skull caps which are present primarily to stop your ears getting ripped off rather than to absorb any impact.
England’s victorious World Cup winning captain and current head coach, Martin Johnson, is a keen follower of American Football and a self-confessed fan of the San Francisco 49ers who he has travelled to see train in the flesh
For someone of such fearsome physicality himself he is perfectly placed to judge and he is convinced that the hits in the NFL are on a different level to those at top level rugby.
You’ll be able to judge for yourself later this year when the 49ers face the Denver Broncos at Wembley Stadium in London for the fourth regular season NFL match to be played in the UK.
American football may not be quite as fluid as ‘soccer’ and the stop-start nature of the game can frustrate those used to watching a long passage of play but the manual dexterity, footwork and sheer brawn on display will be worth the admission.
Let’s just hope the Wembley pitch doesn’t disintegrate and ruin the match as it does frequently for football of the association variety.